Many teachers now have to monitor their learners’ progression – for themselves and for others, such as parents. But we don’t want to keep giving our young learners formal tests, so how can we check how well they are doing while also giving them good support to help them improve?
Monitoring how well young learners are doing and giving them constant feedback on their learning and progression really helps to motivate them. And it makes you feel confident about what you are teaching. But we don’t have to have formal tests – there are many ways to assess how well learners are progressing that support the work you do in the classroom. These are some key points to think about when you are doing classroom assessment:
- Observation: One of the best ways to assess is to observe your students – and you can use this for all four skills. See some examples below.
- Doing the same thing: Make sure assessment tasks are the same as usual class activities; it’s not fair to assess learners on a task that is different.
- Keep it regular: Make your assessment regular because then you can be sure you are really checking progress and it gives you the opportunity to go back over something if you need to
- Give feedback on performance, not scores: Discuss what students did well and give them examples of what to do to do better next time.
Ways of giving feedback
With young learners try to give oral feedback so you have a chance to discuss with them. It allows you to check they understand your feedback and they may be able to reflect on their own ‘ways of doing better’. Give learners a single specific strategy or task to focus on for next time. Don’t overload them but improve in small steps.
To the class: give general feedback to all on what they did well and jointly agree what they can do better next time; make sure it is a general point
To a group: As well as telling the group what they did well, focus on something concrete the group can do to help each other to improve.
To an individual: Make sure am individual student understands what features they have progressed on and give them specific advice about how to do something better next time.
Four example classroom assessment activities
1. Listening and Speaking
You can use observation to assess listening or speaking by, for example, choosing two or three learners every lesson. Observe them under normal classroom conditions to assess their speaking and listening skills in an informal way. Use some form of criteria, possibly connected to the formal tests. The focus is really on classroom language, so for listening, watch to see how well they respond to instructions, whether they understand what other people say to them, e.g. the teacher, the teaching assistant or other learners. Assess speaking skills while they are working on activities or when they contribute to the lesson even if it’s something simple like giving an answer or saying a word when shown a flash card.
Record students on your phone and get them to listen back and comment on how well they did. Share criteria with them and keep it simple, e.g. a single strand such as pronunciation. Ask them to give themselves or each other stickers or smileys for how well they did. Repeat over time so students can see how they improve.
Give students vocabulary tests once a week but allow them to help construct these. Every week make a list of new words that are the most useful. Do this together with the students so they can think about what’s important for their learning. Choose between 6 and 8 words. Get students to write them in their vocabulary books along with a definition, an example sentence and any other words that go with them. Then ask them to learn the words over the weekend and, e.g. do a little test on Mondays. Students can mark each other’s work, which makes them feel responsible and enhances their own learning.
As well as doing your usual reading comprehension tasks, you can observe how quickly your students read and with how much attention. For example, do they use their finger to guide them or do they skip along and miss things. Watch carefully before you do any checking of understanding and monitor how well they progress on concentrating on reading. Or do some ‘speed’ tests which students may enjoy as a competition if you want to check their fluency. Remember to give them feedback on what they should be doing or how long they should be taking in order to give themselves the best chance of understanding a text.
At the end of every week, ask students to write in their English journals. Give them a choice of topic to write about, always related to their personal lives, their school lives and/or their learning. Give them 15 minutes to write in class. Then collect a few of the journals every week and read their entries. Make some comments on their work and grade them to four different criteria – vocabulary, grammar, punctuation & spelling, and ideas & organization. Make sure the learners know what these criteria are and understand they will be used whenever they do writing tasks. Make notes on your feedback and write them on their work too, before handing back.
And remember …
Assess students in this way across a term. You could also use a portfolio approach. Make sure you keep good records across time for the students, the school and the parents. It is important there is consistency in how you approach classroom assessment and with any criteria you use because then you can evidence progress. But do make sure any classroom assessment is stress –free for the students!
In LOOK Teachers Book we have included a framework for managing formative assessment and feedback. The framework outlines how each performance objective for the level can be assessed informally by the teacher across the term or year. It also suggests a range of remedial activities which can support students’ progression in each objective. The framework allows teachers to keep an objective, evidence-based log of each student’s progress, which they can use with the students themselves, their parents or other stakeholders.
Watch Elaine’s webinar on Preparing Young Learners for Exam Success here!
Author: Elaine Boyd
Elaine has been working in language assessment for over 30 years working for a range of international exam boards. She has written several exam coursebooks for primary and secondary learners for leading international publishers. She has also developed courses in assessment literacy and formative assessment for teachers and teacher trainers. She conducts research into issues in classroom assessment and feedback and has a particular focus on primary learners. Elaine is a series consultant for Look , a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.